Ever since King David made Jerusalem the capital of Israel 3,000 years ago, the city has played a central role in Jewish existence. The Western Wall in the Old City — the last remaining wall of the ancient Jewish Temple, the holiest site in Judaism — is the object of Jewish veneration and the focus of Jewish prayer. Three times a day for thousands of years Jews have prayed “To Jerusalem, thy city, shall we return with joy,” and have repeated the Psalmist's oath: “If I forget thee, O Jerusalem, let my right hand forget her cunning.”
By contrast, Jerusalem was never the capital of any Arab entity. In fact, it was a backwater for most of Arab history. Jerusalem never served as a provincial capital under Muslim rule nor was it ever a Muslim cultural center. For Jews, the entire city is sacred, but Muslims revere a site — the Dome of the Rock — not the city. “To a Muslim,” observed British writer Christopher Sykes, “there is a profound difference between Jerusalem and Mecca or Medina. The latter are holy places containing holy sites.” Besides the Dome of the Rock, he noted, Jerusalem has no major Islamic significance.
Meanwhile, Jews have been living in Jerusalem continuously for nearly two millennia. They have constituted the largest single group of inhabitants there since the 1840's (map of Jerusalem in 1912). Today, the total population of Jerusalem is approximately 850,000. The Jewish population in areas formerly controlled by Jordan exceeds 160,000, outnumbering Palestinians in “Arab” Jerusalem.